Wednesday, 25 September 2013

At the heart of the waterways.Five Northamptonshire writers.

At the heart of the English waterway system, Northamptonshire has been the home for several writers of the canal scene. I think that none of them can claim to have been born in the county but they have all in their separate ways been influenced by,  or come to reside in, the county because of the Grand Union canal.
There can be few people who enjoy reading canal books who will not be familiar with this author. Residing beside the canal at Stoke Bruerne David has for many years been a lover and passionate advocate for the canal world and its way of life. Diametrically opposed  to some modern authors who seem to see a canal as little more than a linear pleasure park, David Blagrove has always had the true interests of the canal and its boat population at heart. A man with his heart in the right place. A sentiment that is true I think of all the five authors chosen.
Of his many books ‘The Quiet Waters By’ tells of his early involvement with Narrow Boats & of his time on the Kennett & Avon canal & River Thames. ‘Bread upon the Waters’ (1998) moves the story on to an early life spent carrying cargo on the Grand Union Canal. He has also written interestingly about Northamptonshire's Waterways (1990) and about the canal and his home village (1972)and also that of the canalside village of Braunston amongst others – ‘At The Heart of The Waterways’ (2002).
All these books are readily available.
Our Canal Population – A Cry from the Boat Cabins with Remedy.1879.
Another man from another era but with the same campaigning zeal published his first pleas for a reformation of the boat peoples living conditions in the early 1870’s. By the time the second edition of his book was published in 1879 his parliamentary act had been passed but it had taken nearly 10 years and wrecked his health and impoverished him in the process. He was a resident of Welton a village close to the canal and near Daventry.
First or second editions in various conditions can usually be found (£50 - £150) or a facsimile copy was published in the mid 1970’s.
‘Canal Holiday’ (1957).                     ‘Cruise of The Susan’ (1958)
Already an extremely successful children's writer with many titles to her credit, Winifred Finlay moved to a village just outside Northampton in the mid 1950’s. She e seems to have immersed herself in the canal world immediately absorbing all the influences that she would need for her next two books. Canal Holiday follows the adventures of children on a Narrow Boat voyage from Northampton to Banbury & cannot be faulted for authentic detail. Likewise for The Cruise of the Susan which is again a narrow boat adventure set on the Nene.
Such is the demand from collectors for these two books that neither of them is found easily and are consequently quite pricey. They were never republished so £50 - £75 can be the price for good copies.
still waterstroubled waters
First Edition copies of ‘Still Waters’1982 & ‘Troubled Waters’ 1987.
Margaret Cornish worked as a bus ‘clippie’ in Oxford during the second world war before leaving to join the war time women trainees of the Grand Union canal carrying fleet. She wrote her memoir of this time ‘Troubled Waters’  whilst she was living on the converted butty Alphons on the Grand Union Canal at Stowe Hill, Northants.
Margaret Cornish will be remembered for two very authentic and readable books which are still available & which can still be found in first editions with dust jackets for the very modest price of £10 - £15.
Last but not least and published in 2002 is  John Thorpe’s account of his early years accompanying working boats and their families on their journeys  around the system. A Northampton schoolboy, his parents had bought a canalside cottage at Stoke Bruerne and it was in this close proximity to the boats that he got to know the boatpeople.
Authentic and very readable – Published by ‘Warerways World’ and still I think in print.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


The Dust Jacket as we know it today is a relatively new idea, first appearing in the late 19th century. Prior to this some books had been issued with a plain wrapper in order to protect often ornate bindings. Later the first true wrappers simply stated the name of the book with no other adornment. With the advent of cheap colour printing in the 1880s/90s however publishers soon realised the value of a medium which could give some visual idea of the enclosed books contents and price. Within a very few years and realising the advertising value of a wrapper. publishers expanded the idea to print  not only a precis of the books contents  and its price but also to advertise lists of other books in their ‘stable’ and of forthcoming titles as well.

Caravan Afloat -Dust wrapper

The First? English Canal Book Wrapper. C.J.Aubertin’s A Caravan Afloat c1916.

Cary John Aubertin’s classic travelogue of a converted horse drawn pontoon’s journey along English canals was not the first English canal book to describe such a journey but it seems to have been one of the first to use photographic illustrations taken by the author and to be issued with a plain printed wrapper (no price & no advertising yet).


‘My Holidays on Inland Waterways’ by Percy Bonthron. First edition 1916.

Published in the same year ‘My Holidays on Inland Waterways’ takes advertising a little further with the books price printed on both the wrapper’s spine & cover, the latter also giving some idea of the contents of the book in written form and by means of 2 colour illustrations.$(KGrHqNHJEgFH8nygt5cBSCnrsqdy!~~60_12

‘The Flower of Gloucester’  Third Edition. 1918.

Publishers found too, that sales of cheap unillustrated editions of best selling  books could be further enhanced if the otherwise plain volume which gave no idea of the books contents was issued with a colourful wrapper. So with canal books we find that by 1918 the publishers Chapman & Hall had progressed to using a 3 or 4 colour wrapper on their cheap unillustrated edition of Temple Thurston’s classic.

Copies of most editions of Bonthron & Temple Thurston’s books can be readily found in 1st & later editions. A Caravan Afloat is harder but not impossible to find in its first and only edition, although a facsimile paperback was issued in 1981 by Shepperton Swan.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for copies with dust wrappers. My Holidays……. occasionally turns up with the battered remnants of a wrapper.clinging to it. Thurston’s book in first edition (1911) has a green cloth binding with a beautiful illustration of a narrow boat stamped in gilt on the cover.The second edition in a grey cloth binding has the same illustration in black on the cover but I have never seen either of these editions with a wrapper, so can only assume that they were issued without. It is the third cheap edition that has the wrapper but it is uncommon.

Rarer still and in over 40 years of collecting and buying and selling Aubertin’s book I have only ever come across it once on the copy in my own collection. In conclusion – Please let me know if you have earlier canal books with a  wrapper or indeed if you have any of the above editions with wrappers. My comments are obviously based on my own collecting history and observations and I would love to be proved wrong.

When it comes to Children’s canal literature – the first wrapper that I have found is on a 1933 copy of Theodora Wilson’s ‘Jims Children –A tale of Town, Country & Canal ’  which was first published in 1912 and set on the Lancaster canal. Intriguingly this fairly drab single colour wrapper covers a colourful 2 or 3 colour embossed Illustrated cover. Jims ChildrenJims Children (3)

Childrens book wrapper & embossed illustrated cover from 1933.Jims Children (2)

Title page & frontispiece.

Also from 1933 Mark Harborough’s  ‘Fossil the Scout’  is probably the first children’s canal book published in the UK  to have a wrapper.on its first edition.

Fossil the scout DustwrapperFossil the scout 2048

Wrapper & one of the lllustrations from the book.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Blogging on old canal books.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have not blogged for a few months. The summer months have been so busy with repairs to an old Dutch Tjalk and boating with family and friends on estuary & canal which together with other external activities mean I rarely have time to sit & blog.
One or two interesting items appeared at auction during the summer months.
31 late Victorian photographs of the Upper Thames & the North Wilts canal made £143 at auction.
A 22 page booklet promoting the proposed Western Union Canal together with a sizeable map  (37x18cm)  was a bargain at £33 on EBay.The canal which was to run from the Thames at Maidenhead to Cowley was promoted in 1820.
Another large map, this time of the proposed Basingstoke Canal dated 1790 fetched £89.                                                                                                                          221240672392_1
Three documents & 3 large maps of the proposed Berkshire & Hampshire Junction canal  & dated 1826 made  £124.                                                                                                                      221240672341_1                                                                                                              
Two large maps (70x27 & 61x32cm) and dated 1783 &1784 of the proposed Thames & Severn canal together with a public notice promoting the canal made £112.                                                                                                       $(KGrHqNHJEgFH8nygt5cBSCnrsqdy!~~60_12
Finally a copy of the 1918 edition of this famous canal classic together with its rarely seen dust wrapper appeared recently at auction. For those interested in the publication history of this book & its many editions  I am republishing a revised and updated earlier blog of mine. (See the following bl.)og